GANGNEUNG, South Korea — Somewhere in the midst of hundreds of cascading Winnie The Pooh dolls stood Yuzuru Hanyu.
Oh yeah, there he was, at center ice, bowing to a huge ovation for an Olympic-record short program.
The defending Olympic champion from Japan scored 111.68 points Friday, building more than a four-point lead over Spain’s Javier Fernandez, who happens to share the same coach, two-time Olympic medalist Brian Orser.
Hanyu’s countryman Shoma Uno was third at 104.17, followed by China’s Jin Boyang at 103.32.
Hanyu missed two months of training with an ankle injury and only recently returned to full practices. No matter. He hit every element of a highly difficult program with precision and grace.
“I just wanted to show everyone I’m back, I’m here,” Hanyu said.
Was he ever. In what amounted to a spectacular jumping contest complemented by superb spins and intricate footwork amid intense pressure, the top four were magnificent and spotless.
“I probably could get a little bit more points into the program, but not much more,” Fernandez said. “We’re hitting the limits of figure skating right now.”
Two-time U.S. champion Nathan Chen, a pre-games favorite, was anything but spot-on. He missed on all his jumps, plummeting to 17th place with a tentative and passionless showing.
“I’ve never been in this spot so I really don’t know what to do,” Chen said. He skated after Hanyu and the Pooh bear delay, something Chen had experienced before without being bothered by it. “I thought I did everything right in my general approach and it just didn’t work out the way it was supposed to.”
Fellow American Adam Rippon finished seventh without attempting a quad in what was otherwise a high-wire act for the men.
Hanyu might have done his best work avoiding the Poohs — sort of his trademark because he collects them — that fell around him when he finished his skate. Thousands of mini-flags featuring the Japanese rising sun had greeted Hanyu to the ice.